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Second round of the presidential election in Poland: voting was well organised

Warsaw / Poland

The Parliamentary Assembly’s election assessment mission visited Warsaw from 10 to 13 July to observe the second round of the presidential election in Poland. During the visit, the PACE mission met the Head and experts of the ODIHR Special Election Assessment Mission (SEAM). The PACE assessment mission was accompanied by legal experts from the Venice Commission.

Regarding the functioning of the election administration, the mission was informed that all deadlines had been met. The election administration enjoys the confidence of candidates and performed its duties professionally and in a transparent manner. On election day, the members of the mission observed the voting process in a limited number of polling stations in Warsaw and surrounding areas. The Head of Mission also visited a polling station in a pre-trial detention centre in Warsaw. Voting was well organised in all polling stations visited by the members of the mission. The PACE delegation highlighted with satisfaction the motivation of citizens exercising their right to vote, demonstrated by the high turnout, and this in spite of the precautionary measures put in place due to the pandemic. The mission noted, that as in the first round, there needed to be greater observance of the principle of secrecy of the vote. Voters did not always make use of the booths, nor did they systematically fold their ballot papers which made their votes visible. In a few cases, voters were observed taking pictures of their completed ballots.

The Assembly assessment mission was informed by the ODIHR SEAM that the election campaign between the two rounds was characterised by increasing confrontation and polarisation, verbal and physical clashes, as well as negative campaigning and mutual harsh accusations between the two candidates. The Assembly mission noted with regret that the 2 June Act did not include provisions for the conduct and the timeframe of the campaign for the second round.

With respect to the media coverage between the two rounds, the Assembly’s mission pointed out that despite the high expectations of Polish citizens, no joint TV debate had been held between the two candidates, thus depriving voters of a direct exchange on their respective platforms. Such debates remain important moments of political life. The Assembly’s mission also noted that there were no changes regarding effective oversight by the National Broadcasting Council. Senior public officials were actively involved in the election campaign promoting both candidates via social media. This can be qualified as misuse of administrative resources in cases where public figures used their functions and official accounts to promote such candidates. In this regard, the assessment mission recalls the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission Guidelines on the use of administrative resources during elections.

As for voting abroad, the assessment mission noted the increased number of voters registered for the second round. While recognising the logistical challenge of operating in a very tight timeframe between the two rounds, the Assembly’s mission considers that all voters should be granted equal conditions for effective participation in elections.

Concerning the funding of the election campaign, the Assembly’s mission was informed about the considerable difference in campaign expenditure limits between the candidates, namely 28M PLN for the incumbent and 9.5M PLN for his opponent. In addition, the mission noted the lack of an efficient oversight mechanism for campaign expenditure. The relevant bodies of the Council of Europe, in particular GRECO and the Venice Commission, remain at the disposal of the authorities of Poland to improve the legal framework on the funding of campaigns and its transparency as well as reporting, according to Council of Europe standards.

As underlined in the statement following the first round of the election, the Assembly’s mission recalls the importance of the co-operation between the relevant authorities of Poland, and the Venice Commission, in the context of the Assembly’s monitoring procedure.